You may have watched the popular PBS program Finding Your Roots, which features a celebrity who uncovers his or her past under the watchful eyes of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  While the show’s intent is to dig deep into the celebrity’s family history to track their journey to this country, it often uncovers long lost family secrets.

A detailed family health history can help your doctor know which tests and screenings are best for you. While most of us probably have some idea of where our families originated, it is particularly important to understand the medical conditions that may have followed our family members and especially those conditions that resulted in their deaths.

Knowing your family health history is one of the best ways to understand your risk of developing conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  A detailed family health history can help your doctor know which tests and screenings are best for you. It might also help you decide whether certain lifestyle changes might lessen your risk.

Recording your family health history is simple.  Start by writing it down all in one place.  You should obtain information from three generations of biological relatives.  Try to include what diseases they had, how old they were when the disease was diagnosed, and the age and cause of death for family members who died.  Pay close attention to family members who got a disease, like cancer, earlier in life than expected.  Also find out if several close family members have the same disease, or if someone in the family had a disease uncommon for their sex.  For example, did a man in your family have breast cancer? Once you have accomplished this, share your family health history with other family members and take it with you to medical appointments.

Thanksgiving is almost here. Let’s take advantage of the collective memories of our relatives to write down or update an accurate family health history.  Make this part of your holiday tradition, along with pumpkin pie, and football.  You never know what information you may uncover that could assist your doctor’s treatment plan for you.